Discussing Comedy Timing with my Students

Posted on: by Sara Akhteh

I was on the phone last night with my students Marco and Farren who’d just completed their first pass on a cut of their web series. I was giving my round of notes to the editor, Marco, after doing a sit down with Farren, the series Creator on Tuesday night. The two had been living in a bubble with this project and needed an extra pair of eyes to make sure that the laughter was still there…..after looking and living with this project for so many months.

      Comedy is definitely not my strongest suit, and in fact, what I’ve always said about comedy is: either you got it or you have to work really hard to fake it. 🙂 Fortunately for my student Farren, he’s an absolute ‘natural’, so my task in helping them was less to make the show funny, but rather, to pinpoint the beats for cutting.
      I remembered three important lessons from CreatorUp teacher, Annie Lukowski, who is, in my opinion, a comedy genius!
1) What are the intentions of the characters?
This appears to be acting terminology, but it’s NOT. Intentions of characters is something you consider all the way through to post. What characters want should always be the driving point of every scene.
2) How do you add your own style to a comedy web series?
This is super important, because think about how much competition you’re up against in the web space! This is also a hard one to nail down to an exact science. This ‘style’ can be manifested in many ways – perhaps it’s in the way you shoot the show (all hand held), or perhaps it’s in the graphics during interview segments in your reality web series. Whatever that angle is, make sure it’s consistent and make sure it’s ‘yours’ – and by this I mean, make sure when someone is watching your show they know at a moment’s glance that it’s ‘your’ show they are watching. This will surely help set you apart from other shows with similar theme or genre.
3) How do you create moments of complete spontaneity?
Again, creating moments of surprise in something that has been prepped and rehearsed one zillion times is hard….but it’s possible! What my student Marco, the editor, did that was super creative was cut some of the out takes directly into the series. What this accomplished was achieving not only an entirely raw performance from the actor, but also creating an element of spontaneity for that episode.
   What our teacher Annie suggests, is perhaps giving actors a completely absurd backstory that drives their performance, and make sure NO ONE else knows this backstory except the actor it’s intended for. The other actors/characters/and audience have no idea why they are behaving a certain way, and this automatically will create an element of delicious surprise!


If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy learning from some of our free lessons on how to make a web series here:

The Digital Creator

Or learning more about web series monetization here:

How to Make Money with Web Series

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Written by Sara Akhteh

Sara Akhteh received her MFA from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, with an emphasis in Production. Since graduating Sara has worked on such films as The Social Network, Water for Elephants, Argo, and much more. She is currently at Sony Pictures working in Studio Finance.

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